Nigeria’s representatives in Africa must go for trophies — Sunday Telegraph EDITORIAL
Posted by News Express | 22 August 2021 | 28 times
•Sports Minister Sunday Dare
Top football leagues including the English Premier League (EPL), Italian Serie A, Spanish La Liga and German Bundesliga started last weekend. It is, however, a surprise that the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) ended just as other top leagues kicked off. We are aware that this affects the country’s representation in continental assignments. And the way it is, the new NPFL season might not resume before the start of the various continental club games.
This is one big reason why the country does not have bragging rights in club and domestic football in Africa. Since Enyimba’s back-to-back wins in the CAF Champions League (2003 and 2004), Nigerian teams have not won any continental trophy.
Before then only Rangers, Shooting Stars and BCC Lions won the Cup Winners’ Cup (now Confederation Cup), but only Enyimba have won the ultimate diadem. In the just-concluded season, Akwa United won the NPFL title with their consistency. Coach Kennedy Boboye and the players deserve huge praise for this feat, especially because in the past five years the team won the FA Cup twice. Club Chairman, Paul Bassey, also deserves commendation for steering the ship successfully to get to this huge result. It is, however, a surprise that the second and third positions are still in contention because of the late decision of the verdict on Rivers United’s protest against Jigawa Stars.
Rivers protested that Jigawa fielded an ineligible player, surprisingly the League Management Committee (LMC) did not act on it. But the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) did on the last day of the season by awarding three points and three goals to Rivers. Shamefully, Jigawa claimed they were unaware of the error and we frown upon such a response because it shows the club’s secretary was not keeping records.
Sheer mediocrity! We must stress that there is nothing wrong with the decision but the timing was awful because it gave Rivers the advantage of climbing to second spot while Enyimba who previously held that position slipped to third while Kwara United that could have taken the last continental slot are now fourth, losing out on a continental ticket. Kwara United are already threatening to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) because of this. Another anomaly in the just-concluded league was the way the top scorer gong was given to Silas Nwankwo of Nasarawa United who had 19 goals, same as Charles Atshimene. However, Nwankwo got the nod because he had only one penalty goal while Atshimene scored three penalties. In most leagues around the world, the tie-breaker in determining the highest goalscorer is usually the number of assists but clearly this is not the case for the LMC. Two seasons ago in England, three players – Sadio Mane, Mohammed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Abumeyang – were tied on goals in the EPL and all three were awarded the gong.
The LMC should have named both Atshimene and Nwankwo joint winners. The LMC should rise beyond mundane administrative issues that could ridicule the country. However, Akwa United, Rivers United, Enyimba and FA Cup winners, Bayelsa United, must redouble their efforts to prepare for the continent because it’s obvious the league cannot help them.
The EPL and other top European Leagues started the weekend with so much excitement, glamour and perhaps most importantly with the fans back in the stands following the COVID-19 pandemic-induced ban last campaign. The EPL is widely followed just like other European Leagues because of its organisation, commendable template and the whole ambiance. Sadly, more Nigerians follow the EPL than the domestic league – the NPFL. The European transfer period also provides excitement and good build-up to every new season.
The teams trade players to strengthen their preparations for the new season and they play friendlies to hype the new season. Lionel Messi’s shock move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain has been a big issue in the past 10 days because of the huge influence of the player and La Liga. Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane also left Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and Real Madrid in La Liga to join Manchester United with plenty of talking points for the fans just as the return of Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea from Inter Milan is also a big subject of discussion.
The packaging and sponsorship European leagues enjoy are amazing points that drive sustenance while the television rights which bring the matches to the homes of many fans around the world are a big additional boost. We were told by the organisers of the Nigerian league, LMC, that the NPFL is modelled after the EPL, but sad enough, many decisions and some aspects of the operations beat the imagination of keen followers of the beautiful game in Nigeria because they are nowhere near what happens in the EPL.
Over time, the calendar imbalance has been raised as a big issue affecting the teams representing the country on the continent yet, the LMC has not been able to align the calendar to ensure the league starts at a time the teams representing the country on the continent would have warmed up for the new season. A deliberate effort must be made to make the country’s continental representatives win trophies rather than just competing to crash out early. We believe, with proper planning and technical preparations, another Nigerian club can again be crowned champion of the continent, just like Enyimba 17 years ago.
Source: News Express
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